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Dark 'Beauty' thrills Chinese audiences

Updated: 2016-08-01 08:32:56

( China Daily )

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Sleeping Beauty, directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, is touring China.[Photo by Johan Persson provided to China Daily]

Sir Matthew Bourne was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of audiences in Shanghai as he visited China for the first time in late June. His company, New Adventures, is presenting Sleeping Beauty in Shanghai and Beijing this year, and he says he wasn't prepared for the passionate welcome from audiences he met at the Shanghai Culture Square, especially from young people.

"It certainly makes me think that we should come back again," says the award-winning choreographer, who is the only artist in contemporary dance theater that has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The British choreographer's dance theater creation Swan Lake had a very successful round of performances in Shanghai and Beijing in 2014.

Sleeping Beauty is a dark romance set in the 1890s, in which the prince intentionally turns himself into a vampire, so that he can be with Princess Aurora throughout her 100 years' sleep.

"That set us on the time journey of the piece," Bourne says. "One of the excitements of the piece is the length of the time involved: You have Aurora as a baby at the beginning, and she grows up into a young woman, then she has a 100 years' sleep. By the time you get to the last scene, we are actually at the present day. So it goes from 1890 right through to now."

Bourne has successfully reinterpreted classical ballets such as Swan Lake and Cinderella. The choreographer of contemporary dance theater is widely applauded for his storytelling ability.

Commenting on Bourne's work, Huang Doudou, a Shanghai-based dancer and choreographer, says: "Very often dance is known to be good with emotional expression and lame with storytelling. Yet Matthew is capable of telling a story no one else can even think of doing."

Fei Yuanhong, artistic director of Shanghai Culture Square, calls Bourne's Sleeping Beauty a masterpiece, at the same time an easy piece for ordinary folks to experience the charm of dance and theater. "Bourne has done a great job combining theater and dance," he says. "Sometimes you feel like you're watching a musical rather than a dance show."

As Bourne explains: "I try to understand the audience, especially with a new piece, or with new audiences, such as in China.

"When I looked at the plot (of Sleeping Beauty), initially I looked at the things I didn't like about it. I didn't like the prince coming late, being a character that just kissed her and woke her up.

"I wanted them to have a love interest early on in the piece. So I changed the plot, trying to make it stronger for modern audiences to get excited about."

Bourne didn't start professional training in dance until he was 22.

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